Not About iPhoneThursday, June 12, 2008
Okay, so a new iPhone is due out in July. I will wait until I have one in my hands to write about it, meanwhile there are plenty of articles about the new 3G model to read without me adding my two cents. There is a lot more to write about than a new iPhone.
For example, I recently wrote an article on Intel’s WiMAX exit strategy for Fierce Wireless and received a lot of email and comments—some agreeing but a lot disagreeing with me. I don’t write news, I write opinion about the news and happenings and that article is my opinion, my questions and my poking at the industry and companies that are easy targets. I am not always right, but that is not my goal. My goal is to make people think about things, perhaps in a different way that asks, “How much of what I am hearing from xyz is hype and how much is reality?”
I am sure Intel will have something to say about what I wrote, just as Clearwire will have something to say about my writings indicating that I don’t think it can survive. Rather than waging a war of words, let’s put this all into perspective. I have made my views known, both pro and con, on these and other issues. The reality lies in what happens next. If Intel does push for harmonization of WiMAX and LTE, then I am correct; if Clearwire fails, then I am correct. But if Intel and the WiMAX industry make a success out of WiMAX and Clearwire becomes a real contender, then I am wrong. In the meantime, perhaps some of the people who are simply following the giants along, thinking they can win if the giants win, will start asking questions instead of playing follow the leader. If that happens, I have accomplished what I set out to do, regardless of the outcome.
In 1998, first responders were already out of channelized spectrum to use for voice dispatch and on scene for incident control. It was not unusual for a police department to send in an application for one or two additional 25-KHz (yes, 25-KHz) channels for voice operations. Nor was it unusual for first responders to run out of channels to use during a major event such as an earthquake or a wildfire, not to mention what happened years later in New York City. Here it is ten years later and these same departments are still out of channels for voice dispatch.
It is ironic to me, and I know I keep beating this subject up, but here we are fighting about a new piece of spectrum that is 40, 50, or 60 MHz wide, and cities cannot find even one new 25-KHz voice channel to relieve their overcrowded dispatch networks. Okay, I will leave that alone for now, but when the NTIA and the FCC look at spectrum, they are only looking at broadband spectrum. Just one final comment here. During the recent San Diego fires, the fire departments ran out of channels to use. I could sit on a hillside and connect to a nationwide wireless broadband network and they could not even coordinate which equipment was going to protect which neighborhood.
3G Here Today
Most of the recent news stories have to do with 4G—how soon it will be here, how much it will do, what the data speeds will be—but the reality is that our 3G networks are not being used as heavily as they could be and, by the way, their data speeds are really good. Verizon Wireless finally turned up EV-DO Rev A. In my tests using a Panasonic Toughbook and a Dell XPS, both with embedded EV-DO Rev. A as well as an external USB EV-DO Rev A modem, the speeds I see on a regular basis are very good—downlink speeds average out at 2500 Kbps+ and upload speeds just over 670 Kbps. This is based on more than fifteen tests using speakeasy.net and its servers in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. For comparison, I pay for DSL (from Verizon) at the highest speed of 3 Mbps down and 786 Mbps up. Using the same tests and the same sites, my DSL connection averages just over 2880 Kbps down and 700 Kbps up, which is not a whole lot of difference, but EV-DO Rev A is available almost everywhere I go.
So while 4G is interesting and everyone seems to like to talk and write about it (including me), the bottom line is that what is available today works great and at about the same speeds as my DSL service. Sprint and AT&T’s systems are also up and running here. I have not had a chance to test them yet, but I will be doing so before long and I suspect I will see similar results on their networks. The price of broadband data services is coming down and high-speed broadband is here. But that is not news to anyone, broadband has been up and running in most places for a few years.
While broadband data usage climbs every quarter, it is not growing as fast as it should. Now that more notebooks come equipped with embedded wireless broadband, I expect to see more people taking advantage of the service, and some network operators permit new customers to try the service by buying access for 24 hours—access that is not limited to where there are Wi-Fi hotspots. If I subscribe to 24 hours of data, I can start in Los Angeles, travel to Dallas and use it there, and on to New York, when I can check into a hotel and use it there instead of the wired Internet the hotel offers that will cost almost as much as 24 hours of wireless broadband. This type of service is also ideal for those who do not travel very often and, using a notebook with world data capabilities, it means I can have a monthly subscription in the U.S. and then, in London, for example, sign up for 24 hours of broadband at a reasonable price and not have to pay roaming charges or find a Wi-Fi hotspot to use. (Have you seen what it costs in Europe to use a Wi-Fi hotspot?)
The reality is that there are many more wireless handheld devices than there are notebooks, and the number of smart phones is growing by double digits. This is the sector that will really drive broadband usage up. But I don’t think it will be because they will be browsing the Internet, it will be because they will have access to the information they want and need and because wireless broadband is available.
I was thinking about the fact that I have used a BlackBerry since the late 1990s and before that I was carrying a RIM Interactive pager. My first BlackBerry, which did not have a serial number, was on the RAM Mobile Data network with a data speed of 8 Kbps tops. I used to say that my email came to me faster than I could read it so I was not concerned about the speed of the network. Fast forward ten years or so and my BlackBerry is capable of voice, over-the-air sync and, yes email. I still get email faster than I can read it, but the wireless broadband network has made it easier and faster for me and my Blackberry to download attachments and read them. I can receive PowerPoint, Word, Excel and other documents and I can open and read them, but the most important thing to me is that I get them quickly.
There are a couple more turns of the crank coming for 3G, both the CDMA flavor and wideband CDMA flavor known as HSPA. Before we get to 4G, we will have more speed, both down and up, than we have today. It might not be as fast as what people are projecting for 4G, but then 4G will be a simple network upgrade to existing EV-DO and HSPA systems. But none of this matters unless more people make more use of the networks. What will it take? That is a good question, but I, for one, do not believe for a moment that adding 3G to a phone will turn every user into a web surfer. I still believe we need smart applications and services, and that the speed of the network will help make these applications easier to use and the information they provide will arrive more quickly on our devices.
Yes, 4G is coming and, yes, those who believe that the Internet in its desktop form delivered to our handheld devices is the highest and best use of both 3G and 4G technology, think this type of Internet access will drive data usage. But I don’t agree. The new iPhone with 3G data will probably be a great platform for surfing the Internet if that is what we want. What excites me more is that software developers for ALL of the smartphone platforms are starting to write programs that get us what we want, when we want it, without having to Google it first, go to a website and figure out what page we need. The more easy-to-use software we have, the more people will use it, and perhaps we will reach a point where people who have only used their wireless devices as voice phones will join in and become members of the mobile data users society!
Andrew M. Seybold